Previewing Trophy Rock Season
The fish were cooperative and incredibly powerful
It began with a light tap on my Bass Assassin, then a solid pull. I set the hook, and my line started to pay out, slowly at first. I could feel a headshake, then another as the fish became alarmed and began to run.
My stiff, fast-action, casting rod bent nearly double as I quickly realized that my reel drag was set more firmly than intended perhaps too firmly.
The boat, slowly spinning into the eddy of the outflow rip, gently eased its bow over my now rapidly running line. Horrified, I leaned over the gunnel and, stretching my arms out, pushed the rod tip down into the water to keep the line from touching the hull.
The striper continued to accelerate, shaking his head and pouring on speed. The power of its thrusts pulsed through the straining rod.
I considered loosening the drag to ease up the resistance on the fish. But at my awkward angle and with the extreme pressure, I wasn’t sure I could hold on to the rod with one hand. I was also afraid of throwing another variable into what had quickly become a small crisis.
But my 20-pound Fireline was fresh, the fluorocarbon leader new, my knots carefully tied the night before and the one-ounce jig fresh out of the box. I decided to stick out the situation the way it was and hope the fish would turn or stop. Still, I’d never had one run this long, especially with power like that.
Behind me, my friend Frank could see I was in a jam, and I knew he was offering advice. But I was so focused on the moment the words were lost. His last fish, just 10 minutes ago, had been over 36 inches. I hoped this one would be at least as large.
Seconds later, my line went slack. The fish was gone.
Retrieving my jig, I discovered that the 5/0 hook had bent open, not a lot, but enough for the fish to get the angle he needed to shed the lure.
Welcome Back to The Rips
This striped bass hotspot is Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant on the Chesapeake in Lusby, Maryland. I have visited it a number of times in the last few years and have tangled with some memorable fish there.
The big rip is formed by the high-volume outflow tube that evacuates water from cooling the plant’s steam-generation system. The big pipe ejects a roiling maelstrom of warm water just offshore of the plant. It’s a unique patch of water, hardly larger than a couple of football fields, but it holds an inordinate number of nice fish. Sometimes giants.
Baitfish are attracted to the slightly higher temperatures of the outflow, particularly when surrounding waters are cool. Entering into the heart of the area, they are quickly disoriented and pulled helplessly into the wildly undulating currents of the discharge.
Striped bass, attracted by the warm commotion and with muscles built for the heavy, pounding surf of the North Atlantic, consider the circumstances as a deluxe buffet in a comfy Jacuzzi.
The Twain Met
My friend and neighbor Frank Tuma had invited me to join him on a scouting trip to The Rips as a prelude to the coming trophy season. Frank is a charter boat skipper (downtimecharters.com), running his 23-foot Grady White, Down Time, out of Breezy Point Marina each spring.
Fish Are Biting
Shad, perch and rockfish are in numbers at all the usual locations in the mid-Bay and the tributaries. Unfortunately the weather has been extremely uncooperative. Better times are ahead. Get out when you can.
We had been threatening to fish with each other for the last year or so. Frank likes to accuse me of wasting my time fly fishing, and in response I disparage his affection for dragging big trolling rigs.
A week or so ago, we compromised with a trip to The Rips and light-tackle jigging, which we both love. I was certainly glad I went. Frank was well familiar with fishing the turbulent waters, a skilled angler and adept at positioning his boat to access the best areas.
The fish were cooperative and incredibly powerful that day. We released at least a half dozen bright, healthy fish in the 28-to-38-inch range that put up brutal fights. The countless medium-sized stripers impressed us as well with strength out of all proportion to their size.
Perhaps it was the brisk water temperature, 52 degrees, or that the stripers were fresh from the ocean, as evidenced by their sea lice. They had thoroughly worn us out by early afternoon.
Limping home, arms sore, hungry and tired, we knew it had been a superb experience and an incredible start to the season. As for me, my first stripers of the year had been landed and released, and my first major defeat was under my belt as well.